Cara Darmody with her brothers John and Neil, who are both enrolled at Scoil Chormaic Special Needs School in Cashel
A Tipperary family has called for the boards of management at special needs schools to carry out individual risk assessments before deciding on whether to reopen their classrooms.
Ardfinnan’s Mark and Noelle Darmody have two sons who are severely autistic with intellectual difficulties and a daughter.
Neil, 8, and John, 4, who are enrolled at Scoil Chormaic Special Needs School in Cashel, have “regressed dramatically” during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
“Our children cannot talk, so we have to be their voice,” Mark told The Nationalist on Monday last.
“Many of their little gains are gone. Their sleep pattern is destroyed, and we regularly have to drive them around or have them outside in the garden in the middle of the night. Every parent of a severely disabled child would agree that their children just go backwards without their programmes,” Mark continued.
Mark, who has a consultancy company which provides legal training courses to school staff members, said boards of management have the power to reopen their schools. He said schools should attempt to get their doors open for special needs children, perhaps starting with one day a week and proceeding if it is safe to do so.
When schools reopened last August, the Darmody’s carried out a risk assessment and decided to only send their 10-year-old daughter Cara to Ardfinnan National School two days a week, homeschooling her the other days to mitigate against Covid-19 entering their family home.
“Boards of management are actually in charge of schools. Most boards are made up of local people who don’t have any legal experience, so they are shy about making decisions and have gone silent. They are allowing the unions to take over,” Mark said.
“I am not advocating that every school should reopen their doors. If the unions give the go-ahead to reopen, they would pack every school again which is crazy. Each board of management should assess the medical evidence in their communities and decide whether it’s safe or not to reopen.
“There are clearly schools and areas that cannot open, and there are those who can and should. Each parent must then make an individual decision.
“Through my work I am in touch with many principals and teachers around the country that say they would be back in the classroom this minute, but cannot because of the unions. It is the vulnerable kids that are suffering. Unions must step back and stop hindering these heroes from stepping forward,” Mark added.
Noelle said special needs children are in “big trouble and need urgent help”.
She added: “It is not right that we are leaving vulnerable children behind. This is not who we are as a nation - we are better than this! Irish people always step forward when people are in trouble and we don’t leave struggling people behind. We have to help these kids.”